Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein | Summary, Analysis and Poetic Devices Used

Skin Stealer: The poem ‘Skin Stealer’, authored by Shel Silverstein, is a twenty-three-line poem within one text block. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, but Silverstein did utilize both full and half-rhyme throughout the poem. The former is seen at the end of lines, as well as inside the text.

For example, the word “do” at the line’s end three and “coo-coo” in the fifth line. In the first set of lines, there are several perfect rhyming ends as well, with “bed” and “head” as well as “be” and “he”.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Summary Of Skin Stealer

The poem ‘Skin Stealer’ by Shel Silverstein is a short poem filled with humour describing the shenanigans of a skin stealing coo-coo. The poem starts with the Silverstein’s speaker elaborating that, just like every night, he unzipped his skin and took off his head.

The speaker then goes on to say that he went to bed like normal. However, soon the speaker discovered his body had been stolen by a “coo-coo” and gone out into the street. This creature had been acting in a way the speaker would never have. He danced about with the women and tickled children. The speaker thought him a rascal and asked for everyone’s forgiveness.

Poetic Devices Used In Skin Stealer

The latter, half-rhyme, can be noticed through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This implies that either a vowel or consonant sound has been reused within one line or multiple verse lines.

For example, the words “carefully” and “prepare” in lines two and four. Both these words make use of the short “a” sound. Repetition is another form of technology that can be seen throughout the poem ‘Skin Stealer’. For example, the use and reuse of the word “skin” at the ending of the three lines.

Silverstein’s technique in this text is that of anaphora or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For instance, “And” appears at the beginning of six of the twenty-three lines.

Detailed Analysis Of Skin Stealer

Lines 1 to 9

“This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.”

In the first lines of the poem ‘Skin Stealer’, Silverstein’s speaker with an offbeat premise. The speaker states that often this very evening, he “unzipped” his skin. This statement is definitely not meant to be taken literally. It is only made ridiculous in the second line when the speaker of the poem says that he “unscrewed” his “head”.

When a reader reads these two statements, they might go to any number of images. One can imagine a doll, action figure, costume or something else that looks human-like but can come apart.

As is the case with most of Silverstein’s poems, there is the surface-level content meant to entertain the younger audience and that which resides below the surface that intrigues an adult. In this scenario, one should think about what it means to take off and put back on one’s skin.

One could make several inferences about societal norms, identity, pressures, and anxiety about one’s own life/personality.

Silverstein’s speaker goes on to state that this unzipping and unscrewing is not unusual. He mentions that he does it all the time whenever he is willing to “prepare” himself “for bed”.

However, something different happened on this very night. A “coo-coo” came and had put on the speaker’s skin and head. There is no detail in ‘Skin Stealer’ about what a “coo-coo” looks like or why it is in need of another’s skin. This creature has taken the speaker’s skin and used it for his own purposes. One may be reminded of the saying “a coo-coo in the nest”.

Lines 10 to 17

“Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way.

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say,

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And Dancin’ the ladies away.”

The speaker of Silverstein’s poem describes how the “coo-coo” took his skin and ran out into the street in the following lines. He started doing things the speaker of the poem would never even imagined doing. These involve “Ticklin’ the children / And kickin’ the men”. The coo-coo was also “Dancin’ the ladies away”.

The shortening of the words “tickling”, “kicking”, and “dancing” in these lines, as well as “doing” and “saying” in the previous, denotes a dialect. However, it also suggests the anger of the speaker at these actions. The speaker’s words are have started becoming slurred as if he’s spitting them out, amazed by what went on in front of him.

Lines 18 to 23

“So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.”

With the last lines in mind, Silverstein’s speaker addresses the audience, telling them that “So if he makes your bright eyes cry” or “Or makes your poor head spin”, one should know that it isn’t the speaker inside the skin. It is actually the coo-coo acting out (or at least making it seem as if the speaker is acting differently than he would otherwise).

The speaker of the poem calls the coo-coo a “scoundrel” in line twenty, making his opinions about his actions. For adults reading this poem, who can look deeper into the subtext of ‘Skin Stealer’, the speaker addresses who he is and who he is afraid of being.

The speaker’s anger at the coo-coo’s actions showcases a stubbornness of personality. However, the events as a whole promote a re-analyzation of one’s own way of being.

About The Poet – Shel Silverstein

A singer-songwriter, screenwriter, cartoonist, award-winning children’s writer, and actor, Shel Silverstein grew up in Chicago. He started his career as a cartoonist, publishing work in Playboy and the military publication called Stars & Stripes before he turned towards children’s books.

Silverstein is the author and illustrator of a number of books, including Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up. His books have been praised for their appeal to both adults and children.